Loss of habitat, heavy downpour driving creatures great and small into our homes; how do we deal with it? This article aims to teach you what you need to do when wildlife enters your home and invades your privacy and safety.
Watching the majesty of wildlife on a big screen in the comfort of your living room can be an awe-inspiring experience that the whole family will enjoy. Coming face-to-face with wildlife in your home, however, will inspire an altogether different sentiment for your entire family.
Reports of snakes, monitor lizards, monkeys and civet cats (among others) invading homes are on the rise throughout the country, even in highly populated areas within the Klang Valley. Relentless urban expansion has led to the loss of natural habitat and displacement of many of our local critters, and with no place left to go, it seems a warm comfort and food supply at our homes is simply too much to resist for some.
“Don’t panic” is the underlying message from the authorities. This may be easier said than done, but experts say that knowing what you’re dealing with and what to do in such situations will go a long way toward helping you keep a cool head.
This article aims to assist you to achieve just that.
Why is wildlife coming into our homes?
The first step to knowing what you are dealing with is understanding the causes, says former director-general of the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Services Datuk Dr Soh Chai Hok.
Soh said his experience in dealing with wildlife is not just limited to his lifelong career as a fireman, but also from being a long-time resident of Bangsar in Kuala Lumpur.
“We had a nickname for Bangsar in the old days. We called it cobra hill. It was formerly plantation land, so it wasn’t just monkeys we had to deal with, there were many cases of large cobras making their way into kitchens, toilets and bedrooms,” he said.
“This is the unfortunate price of urbanisation, and recent cases of wildlife home invasions around the country can be tied to the same reasons: deforestation, loss of habitat, and now climate change as well, as reptiles are particularly sensitive to temperature changes.”
Soh said the scarcity of trees in fringe urban areas will drive animals such as civet cats (musangs) to your rooftops and monkeys into your rubbish bins. He added that firemen often find a variety of creatures living in the insulated portion of rooftops and sometimes lodged in rainwater pipes along the side of homes. Often, these animals are so exotic that Bomba has to enlist the help of the Wildlife and National Parks Department (Perhilitan) to identify them.
“But there is more to it than that because how we choose to live in the city also plays a big part in causing the problem. Rubbish outside nearby shop-lots, around our houses and in our drains are actually creating a convenient alternative habitat for some animals,” Soh said.
The presence of rats in our drains, for example, will attract snakes who not only will appreciate the free buffet, but also feel right at home in these dark, damp and covered spaces. Naturally, in the rainy season, they will get flooded out of their new homes and find the closest dry spot, which could well be your kitchen.
Cleanliness and vigilance should be a big part of our prevention strategy, and Soh points to advice from Perhilitan as a good place to start:
- Ensure that your homes and surroundings are clear of rubbish piles and debris.
- Proactive gardening and trimming away tall grass or bushes will remove ideal places for snakes and large lizards to hide and conceal themselves.
- To be extra safe in the wet season, close off any holes or exposed crevices around the interior and exterior of your homes
- Properly dispose of food wastes to avoid attracting rodents and other pests that snakes like to snack on.
- Regularly Inspect each and every space in your residence like the toilets, storerooms and bedrooms, and keep your floors uncluttered
- Inspect cold, dark places around your home like shoe cabinets or any piles of junk and items that dangerous creatures may use as burrows
What do you do when wildlife has entered your home?
Even with our best efforts, mother nature has a tendency to do as she pleases and you may find yourself in a Natural Geographic moment at some point. If “Don’t Panic” is too much to ask from you, you should at least condition yourself to panic as calmly and quietly as possible.
“For most creatures, creating a ruckus will be seen as threatening. This means it is a fight-or-flight moment for them, and you don’t want to deal with those odds. The best immediate reaction is back away slowly, with no sudden movements, but also observe as much as you can as you are doing so,” explained Soh.
Details such as species (if known to you), shape, size and colour will help the authorities determine the level of threat you are facing when you eventually call for help. If possible, contain the threat if the animal is in a room by closing the door or blocking off passageways.
Different animals will of course react differently to human presence. Most reptiles will take a defensive stance, either slithering quickly into hiding or recoiling to strike as a warning – remember they are as scared as you are. Monitor lizards are more likely to run away, but if backed in a corner, it will lash its tail and give you an open-mouthed hiss.
When dealing with mammals, Musangs will be looking for the quickest way out of a space, so make sure you’re not in the way. While monkeys are generally less threatening, they are mischievous and will attack if provoked (depending on the species). So avoid eye contact, which can be seen as a challenge, and back away.
“In any case, it is best to have an emergency home evacuation plan for your family, just like you would in the case of a fire. Have a predetermined alert, and a planned meeting point outside your house. You should also alert your neighbours. Not only can they aid you to call for help if you are unable, but scared animals might move about very rapidly and your problem could soon be theirs,” said Soh.
Again, Perhilitan offers step-by-step advice on how to react:
Step 1 – Stay calm and confirm that there is in fact a snake in your house and where exactly it’s hiding.
Step 2 – Do not approach, provoke or make any sudden and quick movements when faced with the animal. Snakes, especially, have a higher tendency to attack when they feel threatened.
Step 3 – Try to identify the physical details of the animal, especially snakes, as this will be important information for those who have to eventually deal with it.
Step 4 – If possible, contain the animal or keep it within sight from a safe distance, but only if the situation allows it. This will help the authorities locate it quicker.
Step 5 – Call for emergency assistance
Here is what you should NOT do when wildlife enters your home:
- Engage with the animal in any way – you simply do not have the expertise
- Try to capture or kill it yourself, even if you feel confident you can. Firstly, it could be an endangered species. Secondly, you simply may not be a match for it.
- Put yourself in danger trying to identify it. If you don’t know what it is, then it is just safer to assume it is dangerous – especially if you are dealing with snakes.
- Try to save it yourself. Again, if you do not what it is, or you are unfamiliar with dealing with such animals, please assume that you are in a dangerous situation.
Of all the likely home invaders, snakes pose the greatest threat because there are many potentially harmful ones in Malaysia.
The Malaysia Biodiversity Information System (MyBIS) has a comprehensive catalogue of venomous and nonvenomous snakes native to our country, and you can help educate yourself by going to this link: https://www.mybis.gov.my/pb/1548. Here you will also find useful information on how to deal with snake bites.
Who do you contact for help when wildlife enters your home?
The good news is Malaysia is an advanced enough country to offer several avenues of help when it comes to dealing with wildlife in your home. However, according to former Fire Chief Datuk Soh, the quickest and easiest thing you can do is call the general emergency line, 999.
“Especially if you are unsure with what you’re dealing with, you can call 999 and explain your situation. They will then help determine the best emergency service to deal with your problem. In most cases, services such as Bomba or the Malaysian Civil Defense Force (APM) are suitably trained and equipped to deal with your problem, and they can be rapidly deployed to help,” he said.
“But there are also unique situations where specific zoological expertise may be needed. Here is where Perhilitan’s expertise comes into play, especially if the animal is particularly volatile or hard to locate.”
Soh added that sometimes well-reputed private pest control companies are well-trained to deal with Musangs, large lizards and snakes.
Here is a list of emergency services you can call when you have wildlife trouble at home:
- General Emergency Line: 999
- Angkatan Pertahanan Awam Malaysia (APM)/Civil Defence Force: 991
- Bomba: 994
- Perhilitan: 1-800-88-5151 (hotline)
How do you go about alerting emergency services?
Be as detailed as you can possibly be when you’re using an emergency line, said Soh, but please be clear and listen as the emergency operator guides you on the details they require.
“Very often, people put in a quick call to tell us what the emergency is, then cut off before they give us crucial details about their location. This impacts how quickly help can reach you.”
Especially when using the general 999 emergency line, he said callers should first give their name and contact number first, so emergency services can follow up if the line gets cut or if they need further information.
Following this, the operator will ask which emergency service you require, and if you are not sure which is the best for your situation, say so and that decision will be determined for you.
Here is where your observation and the details you can provide, matter. Giving accurate details will not only help determine the appropriate service for you and prepare them for what they are about to deal with, but it will also help speed up the entire process to everyone’s benefit.
These days, smartphones make it possible to take pictures and recordings. If you can do this from a safe location, this would be even more helpful.
“Make sure you provide all you can about your address and location as well so there is no time lost in finding your place, and alert your neighbours to the fact that an emergency service is on the way, so there are no vehicles obstructing when they arrive,” Soh said.
Additional tips to help keep wildlife away from your home
Apart from general cleanliness and regular housekeeping in and around your premises, here are some quick tips to deter critters from entering your home:
Utilise good fencing
Solid fencing with drainage points covered by wire meshing will help keep some of the “crawlies” out of your garden. Make sure drainage from the kitchen and the rain trough to the back alley is also meshed over, as this is often how snakes get into the home.
No dark places in the garden
Try to adopt a clean and open layout in your garden area, with no overturned pots, buckets or wheelbarrows to provide shelter for snakes and lizards. Thick bushes are also a great hideout, while overgrown tree branches provide highways for musangs, monkeys and other creatures to get to your rooftop.
Keep your rubbish area secure
Put a tight lid on food refuse and tie your plastic bags tightly every evening. Many animals come out to feed at night, and providing an easily accessible food source will start an entire food chain ecosystem outside your front door, with predators on top of that list. You can also use glass cleaning sprays like Windex as a deterrent in your rubbish area because the ammonia content within it is a put-off for many types of critters.
Buy Animal Repellents
There are many types of repellents that are safe to use around your property and won’t harm the invading animals, or your pets at home. All you need to do is sprinkle, spray, or place your repellent around the affected areas, and you should see fewer critters roaming around your house.
Home-made pepper spray
For many creatures, hot pepper is the enemy. You can make a homemade repellent with a few items: hot pepper, water, and dish soap. All you need to do is combine hot pepper sauce (or ground hot pepper), a few drops of soap, and a couple of cups of water. Use a food processor or blender to mix the ingredients thoroughly in a well-ventilated area, and then transfer your mixture into a spray bottle.